Hearing or assistance Dogs

Hearing or assistance Dogs
Most of us are familiar with Guide Dogs or seeing-eye dogs as they are sometimes called. These dogs have been specially trained to be the ‘eyes’ for a blind person. However, we are less familiar with Hearing Dogs. Like Guide dogs Hearing dogs have been specially trained to be the ‘ears’ for a deaf person.

A hearing dog is chosen because it is gentle, is good with people and responds appropriately to a range of environmental sounds. Training takes four to six months and includes an assessment of suitability and obedience as well as socialisation and recognition of sounds. The dog must recognise seven household sounds; fire and smoke alarms, telephone, oven, alarm, door bell and name call. When the dog hears the sound it goes to the deaf person and touches them so they know there is an alert they need to address. The touch may be one or two paws, while sitting or standing. If the dog lies down it indicates danger. The dog is asked where the sound is and takes the deaf person to the source.

Once the dog is paired with a deaf person it is also taught additional sounds specific to that person. It may be the sound of a baby crying or other appliances which this person uses such as a microwave, kettle or washing machine. This additional training takes up to 5 days.

One of the standards for a hearing dog include responding to a sound and alerting their owner within 15 seconds of hearing the sound. Hearing dogs are not pets(although a bond develops between owner and dog). These dogs are working dogs and are often reassessed to make sure they are maintaining the standards they have been taught.

Interestingly, the dog isn’t trained to react to specific sounds in public because these sounds are too intermittent. For instance an ambulance may go past but we don’t see one every time we go out and sounds must be repetitious for the dog to recognise them. Out in public the deaf person uses visual clues. They will see the dog react and turn to see the ambulance and notice the traffic pull over and traffic lights stop.

A Hearing dog is sometimes called a service or assistance dog and is allowed to go into any place, restaurant, public transport and so on. Even if a landlord has a ‘no pets’ status for his property, he must still allow a service dog to live with a blind or deaf person.

In public the hearing dog must wear a special identification vest or backpack and have a hearing dog leash so people can identify it is a service dog and allow it entry.

Most countries have a hearing dog program so it is best to do a search in your area/country to find the nearest location and then find out how you would go about getting a dog. In Australia getting a hearing dog can be a long process. The training is said to cost around $10,000 and a person needs to be sponsored so the costs are met. There is a Lions Hearing Dogs program which provides free dogs to people who need them. (Lions is an organisation which provides community services). 500 dogs have been provided in Australia since 1982.

References: Hearing Dogs for the deaf, Hearing Dogs org.uk, Lions Hearing Dogs

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